With The Sandman: Endless Nights, bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to the characters (and medium) that made him famous. It's a collection of seven short stories, each illustrated by some of the best artists working in contemporary comics (eg, Frank Quitely, Glenn Fabry and Milo Manara) and focusing on the Endless--the anthropomorphic manifestations of seven universal concepts: Death, Desire, Dream, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Destiny. So, it's a collection of fantasy stories, but don't let that put you off. Gaiman is much more than a typical fantasy storyteller--his strength has always been his ability to ground his epic concepts within a sympathetically human framework. That's one of the reasons why the original Sandman series was so successful--nowadays, thanks to the work of creators like Neil Gaiman (and, of course, Alan Moore), it's difficult to remember a time when comics (or graphic novels, or sequential storytelling, or whatever people want to call them nowadays) weren't taken very seriously as a "grown-up" medium.
That said, Endless Nights is a bit hit and miss. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best story here is Dream ("The Heart of a Star"), where Gaiman and artist Miguelanxo Prado revisit the Sandman's protagonist and tell a short, poignant love story from the character's past, carefully constructed to please fans without baffling newcomers. "15 Portraits of Despair", with Barron Storey's art and Dave McKean's designs, is not a story but a collection of darkly-toned, disturbing vignettes, while Bill Sienkiewicz's art for Delirium ("Going Inside") is appropriately manic and unhinged. But, unfortunately, some of the stories here lack any real depth: Frank Quitely's art for Destiny ("Endless Nights") adds a grandiose scale to a story that is little more than a character sketch (albeit a beautiful one), while the Destruction story ("On the Peninsula") squanders what could have been an interesting idea if Gaiman had had more time and space to flesh it out. Still, Endless Nights should be enough to keep Sandman fans happy, while acting as a useful introduction to these characters for any newcomers. And if it gets more people reading Sandman, that can only be a good thing. --Robert Burrow [via]